Mississauga, April 15 (CINEWS): The answer depends on your looks, colour and accent. You must be able to check off all three!
A well-spoken lady I met recently was saddened by her seemingly ‘alien status’ despite the fact that she was born and raised in Canada. She believed that her brown skin prevented her from being accepted as Canadian. Have fielded questions like ‘where are you from’ and ‘when did you come here’ for years, she concluded that she would never be able to blend in. This was compounded by the fact that she was asked if she was a refugee just because she worked with a refugee settlement program. Have spent all her life in a small rural Canadian community where she stood out like a sore thumb, she encouraged her kids to move to a more multi-cultural setting like the GTA.
However, to believe that a multi-cultural society will help you gain ‘real’ Canadian status is a misnomer. While you might draw less attention because there more immigrants of your ethnicity here, it rarely changes how you perceived by the ‘Canadians’ and other immigrant groups. Both will constantly remind you that you are not from here. You are likely to face similar questions as the lady I referred to from white Canadians, while other immigrants will want to know how, when and why you came here. It’s usually disguised as an innocent “what’s your story” question to avoid any racial overtones.
This is not just a Canadian problem but a global one. As award-wining ‘Bangladeshi” writer Zia Haider Rehman recently wrote in the New York Times, his British status was totally eclipsed by his Bangladeshi roots. Canadian newspaper reports that elude to the ethnicity of their newsmakers stand testimony to that. For instance, what purpose does it serve to state that a hero or criminal is Indo-Canadian or a Canadian of Indian origin, except to make them conscious of their status? Or as Rehman says, “…keeping me Bangladeshi has the advantage of enabling some people to tell me to go back to my own country.”
During a conversation I had with a gentleman who worked with ethnic minorities, he mentioned that one of the most discriminatory remarks one could make to immigrants is thanking them for choosing Canada. He was referring to odd statements that politicians would make to their constituents. Like Rehman and the lady I met, he believed it made immigrants feel that they were visitors or guests and not truly at home.
The truth is that while Rehman felt he had to cross the Atlantic to be acknowledged as British (a recognition he got on account of his accent), the rest of us would probably be acknowledged as Canadian only when we went back to our home country.
I remember being told by a well-intentioned gentleman that having a Canadian passport would not earn me that status even internationally because I was not born here. The moment it was determined that my place of birth was India, I would typically be treated as Indian. Although officials and people have always been polite during my international trips, I have to say he was right.
Immigrants have to face the harsh reality that they are now in a limbo of sorts. They will rarely be acknowledged as true citizens of the new country they have adopted, especially if the three dots don’t line up. And they are no longer part of the country they have left behind.
How can we change this? By accepting that every Canadian, except for the indigenous people, is an immigrant. Being fairer skinned or further along the immigration generational lineup does not give anyone special rights or privileged status. More importantly, those that came here earlier should realize that immigrants want to be treated as equal and not draw special attention because they look, dress or speak differently. That’s what being at home really feels like.